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Guggenheim Selects New Director, First Woman to Lead Museum Group

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As cultural institutions across the country struggle to assert themselves in a digital world and the job descriptions of arts leaders become increasingly complex, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation announced on Monday the following names: Announced. Mariette Westerman Director and CEO of the museum group. Westerman, vice president of New York University Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, will be the first woman to lead an entire museum group, and she will lead the foundation and its flagship institution in New York, as well as global locations in Venice, Bilbao and Spain. will be supervised. , and the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

“She performed extensive surgery abroad,” said museum president J. Thomilson Hill. “She has tremendous credibility in the art world and will be able to attract and retain great curators and other talented professionals.”

Westerman, 61, was chosen to replace Richard Armstrong, who stepped down as director last summer, because she is not a professional museum director and her name does not normally appear on candidate lists. When you think about it, it’s kind of surprising.

But she is better known to many in the arts world, having previously served as executive vice president at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which supports cultural institutions.As a former director New York University Institute of Art, trained art historians, curators, and future museum directors.and as Deputy Director of Research. Clark Art Institute In 2019, she became vice president of New York University Abu Dhabi, where she is the school’s chief executive and professor of arts and humanities.

“I know her clarity of thought, her care for art and artists, and her commitment to this field,” said Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art. “I think she will be a great colleague.”

The Guggenheim Museum follows in the footsteps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in selecting university leaders as museum directors. Daniel H. Weiss, president and chief executive officer, who resigned earlier this year. The American Museum of Natural History appointed Sean M. Decatur as its new director last year.and the J. Paul Getty Trust last year. appointed Katherine E. Fleming will serve as the company’s next president and chief executive officer.

Westerman, who graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College, received his Ph.D. He holds a master’s degree from the New York University Institute of Art. Westerman is a Dutch art historian who has published books such as Art of the World: The Dutch Republic 1585—1718 and Rembrandt: Art and Ideas.

Effective June 1, Mr. Westerman will assume the position held by Mr. Armstrong for 14 years. She will move to Manhattan, where she will run the Guggenheim Museum. In addition to New York, the Guggenheim Museum currently has three satellite locations: Bilbao, Venice, and Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

There are other women leaders in the museum’s history. Lisa Dennison was director of the Guggenheim Museum’s New York branch from 2005 to 2007. Gila Ribey was the founder and co-director of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, the predecessor of the Guggenheim Museum. However, it left in 1952 before the museum was built. Peggy Guggenheim, niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim and a leading curator, collected contemporary art that became part of the Guggenheim Foundation in 1976. Her palace in Venice was donated to her in 1970.

The museum is currently led by three deputy directors. I’m Naomi Beckwith, head curator. Sarah Austrian, General Counsel and Secretary; Marcy Withington, Chief Financial Officer and Acting Chief Operating Officer;

Westerman takes over an institution that is still recovering from a period of turmoil that included a 2020 letter from the “Curatorial Office” condemning what it called “an unfair working environment that enabled racial discrimination.” It turns out. Top administrator Nancy Spector resigned and was later acquitted of discrimination charges. The Sackler name was removed from the education center in 2022 after protesters called attention to the Sackler family’s ties to the opioid crisis. The union contract, which was finally ratified last August, was negotiated for more than two years. Recently, the Guggenheim Museum temporarily closed its Fifth Avenue entrance after an event. protest The museum condemns the Israeli military’s air strikes on Gaza.

Additionally, the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed a satellite of the Bilbao Museum in Spain, has now been postponed, having been postponed in part due to protests over the plight of migrant workers involved in the project. Scheduled to open In 2026.

Westerman said it was too early to say anything about the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum. Other than being excited to see it towering nearby.”

She added that she was well aware of the hurdles in running “four very distinctive museums in four prominent buildings in four very dynamic cities.”

“The demands on museum directors today are very complex,” she said. “The skill set required for a work of art like the Guggenheim Museum is a challenge and an opportunity that seems well-suited to the kinds of things I have experienced.”

Mr. Westerman will take on the daunting task of getting the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi across the finish line and making its new destination a destination amidst the turmoil in the Middle East.

Some in the art world see the Guggenheim appointment as yet another missed opportunity to appoint a person of color at a time when the world has become increasingly conscious of the lack of Black and Latinx museum directors. It is inevitable that we will mourn.

However, the Guggenheim Museum has made some progress on diversity, appointing Ashley James as full-time curator in 2019 and Beckwith as deputy director and chief curator in 2021.

And Hill said that when the Guggenheim Museum was looking for a new director, many of the people it considered were “people of color,” and the museum simply decided on “the person who best fits our needs.” he added.

Mellon was one of four funding organizations (including the Ford Foundation, Alice L. Walton Foundation and Pilot House Philanthropies) formed last May. Establishment The Leadership in Museums initiative has donated more than $11 million to museums to increase racial equity in leadership development.

“Diversity, inclusion, and equity are core responsibilities for every organization today,” Westerman said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a museum, university, company, or government agency.”

Mr. Hill said that in conducting his research, he conducted a thorough investigation of “what the Guggenheim is, what the Guggenheim could be, what our failures are, and what our successes are.” He likened it to “receiving therapy.”

Hill said he personally consulted eight people in the field whose opinions matter, including Nicholas Serota, former director of Britain’s Tate Museum. Laurence de Carr, current director of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Ronnie G. Bunch III, Director, Smithsonian Institution; and art dealer Larry Gagosian.

The Guggenheim Museum decided that the next director would need to have international experience, but he would also have to be “someone well versed in dealing with government agencies,” adding, “I’m not just a spokesperson for the museum; He’s also someone who can negotiate,” Hill added.

“Leadership is required in the job, but strong management skills are also very necessary,” he added.

Ford Foundation Chairman Darren Walker, who has worked closely with Mr. Westerman, brought up another qualification he believes is essential to the job.

“That requires someone with global management skills, and she’s doing that,” he continued.

Mr. Westerman’s college experience has equipped him well to oversee the four-museum complex, where “the global is already local, and the local influences the global.” He said he was ready.

“We look forward to bringing these places together,” she added. “Then you’ll get a real feel for the Guggenheim.”

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